EUROPEAN POETRY FESTIVAL II : 2019
Undoubtedly the most ambitious and gratifyingly effective endeavour of my curatorial / organisational work, nine years in. I had the pleasure of spending an intense 11 days, working 9 events, hosting nearly 100 poets from almost every corner of Europe. We travelled across London, then to Norwich, Manchester and Co.Kildare, presenting over 100 new performances, collaborations, readings, and partaking in 10 myself. Almost a thousand people came. It was a seething, charming, dynamic festival, and I feel encouraged by what took place, seeing a vision come into reality. I would imagine it to be only the second of many such festivals celebrating European poetry in the UK and beyond.
Scroll down for writing on each event, performances and more. And please visit www.europeanpoetryfestival.com for all the poet’s works and further info on future happenings.
EPF 2019 Event #9 : at Riverside Arts Centre, Co.Kildare, Ireland
The final event took place at the beautiful Riverbank Arts Centre in Newbridge. It was curated by Christodoulos Makris, with my supporting role not really needed, and put together thanks largely to his residency with Riverbank and Maynooth College. The venue was lovely, a theatre space, and the staff made everyone feel at home after we bussed in from Dublin. This was solo performances, a mix of locals and Europeans, and was something I had hoped to design into the finale - a calmer, more literary, more intimate event. I’ve done these absorbing intensive touring projects before and found myself closing them out sad and tired. I wanted, knowing this fesivalt to be so ambitious, to finish with something more careful and considered, with a lot of my goodbyes done, proffered out over the final days. The festival was designed to be roving, picking up and putting down as it goes along, with poets jumping in and out throughout, rather than within a block structure everyone has to attend. This was another concept which I think was proofed out, as the energy was always high, and the greetings and farewells added unsentimental poignancy to almost every day.
The readings were a mix of styles and standards, but some real highlights, Christodoulos himself was excellent, reading from his new book with Dostoyevsky Wannabe, and Damir Sodan, my old friend from Croatia, Endre Ruset, my old friend from Norway, and Sophie Carolin Wagner, who had been with the festival for the entire duration (the only one besides me) and did a mashup of all her collaborations, were also excellent. The final performance of the fest fell to Serena Braida, who, as ever before, was quite brilliant and lifted the energy before the final farewell.
Performance #9 - I am a puppet, the bear is real
My reading in Ireland featured a bear, who castigated me for reading and not performing, and told me some truths I needed to hear, and then a poem I had written that day, which listed out most of the poets who had been a part of the festival. A small snippet of the text below :
how like Maja Jantar to bring nobility back leaning forcing dignity back into the act of screaming at you
how like Fabian Faltin to bankwit, to make thorough masculinity as important too, you bibbles
how like Vilde Valerie Bjerke Torset to awake a night goat on fire who hits plastic cups with old men and destroys oranges
how like Han Smith to pigeon queen with feral one legged rubber message
how like Léonce Lupette to soul giant with a head of hair made of Drinking blood
how like Ida Börjel to ask me to choke her on stage without any warning whatsoever
how like Olga Stehlíková to be eyes alive all times and love audio video with winky pause
how like Inga Pizane to make everyother ape like mean while giving me chocolate truffles, thanks and on……………..
EPF 2019 Event #8 : at Burgess Centre, The Manchester Camarade (april 13th)
It was great to be back at the Burgess centre, where I’ve performed many times, once sniffing Anthony Burgess’ ‘ashes’ from the stage floor. It began to feel like a tour, travelling to manchester from norwich with leonce lupette, sophie carolin wagner and the other portable europoets. We were given a warm welcome, not least by martin kratz and the other folk from the new manchester poetry library who helped make this event happen. The pairings worked very well, there was some remarkable collaborations, truly collaborative performances. Subjects included sycophantic poetry blurbs, obscure norwegian footballers, the human splits and spam emails, fruit destruction, handwritten t-shirt poetry, competitive collaboration and dire warnings about the future of england beyond europe. / All the videos and more https://www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/manchester
The only small downside was the relatively disappointing attendance – probably chance Saturday with easter holidays beginning – and that this led, organically, to a small sense of the poets, us, reading a bit to each other. This is cool, but when it becomes defining, it’s offputting. When readings or scenes are defined by their insider jokes it makes me feel I’m part of a secret society congratulating itself, which is the very opposite of what I want. I want everyone, sincerely, to feel welcome, included, even if they know no one in the room, and to be exposed to difficult, complex, ambiguous, amusing and often volatile work, all the more because the context of the content is warm and open. And in fact it was like this in Manchester, it just whiffed past the other feeling to me. On the Sunday following, as I was flying to Dublin, I reflected that I had probably finally gotten a little tired, a little less present and alive, for I was surrounded by real friends – Tom Jenks, Colin Herd, Christodoulos Makris, Harry Man, Leonce Lupette, Kim Campanello – people I’ve known well and deeply for many years, whom I respect greatly and it was an exceptional event.
Performance #8 - a post-europe guide for english poets with Tom Jenks
Tom has had to collaborate with me so many times now he has lost his marbles. This time, following our last explorations of the genius of danny dyer and nigel farage, we presented a helpful and practical guide to english poets once the eurocalypse happens. For poets have loved ones too, despite what people think.
Tom was really on fire, completely merked me with wit and charisma, and one must learn when to get out of the way of talent, as I did, and was pretty pleased with this. The interplay between the visual and the poetic, and the written and the improvised was neat.
EPF 2019 Performance #7 - everyone loves the bios
My dear friend morten langeland and I did a version of this once before and had planned to maybe work this out for norwich until, unfortunately, he missed his flight like a cheeky poet. So I furiously spent the afternoon nicking and tidying the idea into a piece I could do solo. It was alright. What I really aimed to do was to open up a perhaps slightly more cautious audience than those we faced in London. I knew some of the poet performers who followed my opening remarks would be playing hard with what some people take to be live poetry so if this conceptual poem intro could set a tone, that would be a success for me, as an organiser poet. In the end, it seemed to land fine and was glad I did it, though I nearly didn’t right up until the last second.
EPF 2019 Event #7 - The Norwich Camarade in Dragon Hall (April 12th)
I was so happy with the works, attendance and energy of this event. We were welcomed really energetically and sincerely by the ever generous folks behind the National Centre for Writing, Peggy Hughes, Chris Gribble et al, and we all felt really supported, so many of us travelling in, and many poets actually arriving at the fest for this event. This was all furthered by the near 100 people who came out to the beautiful Dragon Hall on a Friday night. A very impressive turnout.
In terms of the pairs and works, I think we achieved a good balance of the European and the locals, many from a new generation of poets, leaning into experimentation. It was inevitably a more literary and measured happening than previous london gigs, but quite right too, it felt fresh for that contrast and everyone stayed together post reading for a midnight curry in a suprisingly purple norwich friday night city centre. / All the videos and more https://www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/norwich
EPF 2019 Performance #6 - Water Rituals with Krisjanis Zelgis
I’m proud of this one. Krisjanis and I had met just once before, got on very well but have notably different aesthetics, and yet weput this together on the day, meeting an hour or so before, with the poems being written in the week before. It captured something beyond itself, the resonance of the symbolism, the christian pagan water rituals, which was perhaps intended as irony, but came through partially sincere, surprised us both, I think, during and afterwards. It felt succinct and alive. It was something that opened up a proper friendship between us, as these collaborations so often do. And for me personally, what could be a more fitting personal farewell to London after this amazing week than having a latvian poet shampoo my hair on kingsland road?
EPF 2019 Event #6 - Latvian poetry in collaboration at Burley Fisher (April 11th)
An absolutely packed Burley Fisher bookshop on Kingsland road, this event had its own character entirely, with a completely different tone and energy to the previous festival events. It was really distinct, the bookshop brought everyone into such proximity, it insisted on attention. The project itself was brought into being by the deeply welcome enthusiasm of the Latvian Literature staff, Inga Vareva and Ildze Jansone especially, and we had the luxury of four new collaborations driving the event. I had tried to make this event more literary, more communal, more local, and to open with short solo readings by lots of the visiting poets, as it was also the sendoff to London for the festival after a really rapid and brilliant seven days. All told, it couldn’t have gone better. Every reading and more pics are available here https://www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/latvia
EPF 2019 Performance #5 - The Next Step with Fabian Faltin
This is definitely in the top five best performances / collaborations I’ve done. And performance is what I’ve been working at the hardest the last few years, and collaboration the last 6 or 7. Fabian was extraordinary. We had met just the day before to put it together, in my studio, discovering and discussing a myriad of topics and possibilities. I was fascinated by the similarities in our overall concerns and the specific connections we have in performance style and concept, because of details in our lives, how we both found ourselves in this field. This kind of kinship, very unusual given how strange both of our work is, can make a mess, it’s a danger. It can create excess. So we worked hard in creating a shell and a set of roots for the performance, and then just improvised it. So much of Fabian’s work is so brilliant precisely because it utilises poetic, literary and performance methodology to explore that which is absolutely not connected to any of these things. This is something I also seek, to use these artforms as means of exploration, as context, not content. To scavenge and pick up with the tools, but not look at the tool themselves, in our hands. In the end we both felt an ironised but sincere engagement with masculinity was fitting and due as a subject matter, as a response to other works during the fest and general discussions around our own works and lives. Lots could be written about this, but perhaps another time, and to let the work itself speak. People’s response to it has been really gratifying, especially on the night but also since it took place. Fabian and I hope to use this as a beginning, rather than a finished dialogue.
EPF 2019 Event #5 - Austrian poetry in collaboration at ACF (April 10th)
The ACF have been my biggest supporter in these European themed events over the last many years. I owe them a lot. I always want the events they host during the fest, and in general, to be special. Last year’s EPF ACF event was packed and very memorable. Somehow we topped it. This really was a satisfying night for me, to be 5 events in, with standing room only every night, and to witness, arguably, the most intense event happen beneath a chandelier in Knightsbridge. It’s proof of the festival being important / appealing, I think.
We had a set of solo readings by european poets, some weird powerful stuff from Keti Chukhrov, Andrea Stepec, Kon Papacharalampos et al, followed by three considerable collaborations. Really worth looking up the performances and more pics at https://www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/austria
EPF 2019 Performance #4 - Questions of Neutrality with Patrick Savolainen
I was very satisfied with this collaboration, not only given that Patrick and I wrote and planned it entirely on the day, but that it emerged, live, as far more subtle, layered, and playful than we could’ve thought. My instinct is often, in these events, to resist the entirely written, given liveness is a material, but it was such a good move to root this work in a text, and then to formulate it, first with my suggestion that we explore the theme of Neutrality and then with Patrick’s that we make it a strange, blunted and open ended Questionnaire. The final touches of the mimicry and dead pan gestures closed things perfectly.
EPF 2019 Event #4 - Swiss Poetry in collaboration at Poetry Cafe (April 8th)
An event to remember, entirely stuffed with people, we crammed nearly 100 into the basement venue of the Poetry Society, it’s cafe, in Covent Garden, for an event long mooted and brought together, thanks to Pro Helvetia and the team at Literally Swiss in London, finally, for the fest. Five new collaborations were at the core of the night, with six Swiss poets, that followed short solo readings by various poets visiting for the fest.
The range was really distinct, most especially across the collaborations, which were absorbed as representations of friendship and strangeness, which depicting the relations of the two poets in poetry and were embraced as this, in both directions. From Pantano and Fehr, close friends, but who mashed up entirely unconnected works, to Steinbeck and Calleja, close friends, who read diaries about first meetings of each other, to the clinical irony of Savolainen and I, to the fused fiction of Addonia and Bianconi, it was fascinating to watch these readings connected in one evening.
All the videos and loads more amazing pictures by Alexander Kell https://www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/swiss
EPF 2019 Performance 3 and a half - Being asked to choke Ida, Astra and Lina
Of course poets know if I do choke them, they will survive. I must take it as a compliment that someone would put their neck in my hands, and thus I was asked twice, two nights running, while organising / announcing / performing to also stand up, during performances, in Ida’s case without any warning, completely improvised, and either slap on a rear naked choke or hold a pink rope around two poets’ necks. With Astra and Lina, I really didn’t have to do much but not look like a douchebag. With Ida, who read part of a nighttime correspondence we had been writing since connecting last summer in macedonia, it was resisting the temptation to gently guide her into soft darkness. Some beautiful pictures of the act by Alexander Kell too.
Three events in, returning to the magical Iklectik artlab, which I find easy to find, but others must search to discover, hidden in plain sight, but intimate and unique, wedged between Lambeth and Waterloo. Last year’s sunday night performance event here was grand, this one was better. Another full house, packed out with people, standing room only. Over a dozen new live works made for the night, from poets from every corner of Europe. It was a really easy, energised and playful night, it really followed the camarade so well, and evidenced how important working with the actual material of liveness in contemporary poetry is a concern for those making the exciting work in the continent now. Moreover the fusion and range from the purely conceptual, to the talking performances, to the tech enhanced, to the sound orientated and language concerned - there is so much happening in this field right now and it’s why I put this event on, though it’s a hard one to curate and manage. Worth checking out all the performances.
Maja Jantar is an inspiring poet and artist, a considerable influence on my work. She is as uniquely talented as she is a pleasure to be around. I began collaborating with her years ago to learn, actively, as a form of pedagogy. So it was special to work with her on this enormous Camarade event, with a mass audience and so many peers around.
We shaped something which lay between our two areas of performance, with my yapping conceptual improv turns and Maja’s remarkable sound song tech nobility regal dramaturgy. We unveiled a giant handwritten poem and shaped it like architecture before blinding dancing around the place. It was an hour long piece shaved into 9 minutes and the product of a real friendship for me.
EPF 2019 Event #2 - The behemoth …. The European Camarade April 6th 2019
I think it’s the biggest event I’ve ever put on. Near 200 people. 34 poets, 17 performances. 17 new collaborative live works. Folks travelling in from all over Europa. It was massive and loopy and exciting and easy and fun.
A giant proof of concept, not only for the collaborative methodology with poetry but also the focus on what’s happening now in poetry in Europe. Very few of the poets were from London of course, so it was the concept that brought people in, it would seem, and this energy, this enthusiasm, really encouraged play and experimentation in the works themselves.
In a way, everytime such a seething happening takes place with my events I feel surprised and validated. These things are not to be taken for granted. 2020 will be ten years for me curating live poetry, at the Rich Mix too. To have evenings like this, so memorable and yet still ephemeral and experimental, it’s a really considerable thing. / All the videos are https://www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/camarade19
EPF 2019 Performance #1 : The Dawn of Eurobear
My small short talking performance for the first EPF event was a celebration of the entity that is eurobear. I tried to stick to my recent constraint of pure improvisation, having a familiar / object / prompt, and then just aiming to elucidate some random talking poetics from it / on it. It was funny doing it with my friend eurobear, as I had planned to be souffle light but once i was talking I had to finish early because darkness began spilling from me mouth. I think my desire to hide my opinions was becoming perforated around my own festival, that people now use europe, being pro europe, as an armour, at times. As though it makes them good because they like Europe. Europe of war, Europe of etc… Euroobear saves though.
EPF 2019 Event #1 - Opening the festival in Kingston April 4th 2019
A brilliant opening to the 2019 European Poetry Festival. This fest has become my primary focus in curating live literature, and it has been the source joy for me, bringing so many brilliant poets to the UK, hosting them, showing hospitality, coming up with new ways to make live poetry happen, to write more, to collaborate, to build a cross continental community, to make friendships that are active, kind and lead to new ideas and travels. This event was a chance to overlap my work at Kingston Uni, and directing the Writers’ Centre of the university, with the festival. The focus was Norwegian poetry, and we launched four brand new books, translations and first time publications, amidst readings by visiting and local Europoets. The Rose Theatre room was packed out, full housed, which is not easy to do. The beautiful pictures by Alexander Kell below attest to how lovely the night was. Loads more info and videos www.europeanpoetryfestival.com/wck